Rovers' loss is gain for Aston Villa as Friedel leads upward EPL surge.
By Robert Wagman (in Washington, D.C.)
(Wednesday, January 7, 2009) -- American goalkeepers playing in Europe have done quite well for themselves in the 2008-09 season, especially those in England.
This is particularly true for veteran Brad Friedel with his new club, Aston Villa of the English Premier League. In the last month, he has been one of the most talked about and written about players in the EPL.
Blackburn Rovers, who flirted with relegation from the Premier League last season, brought in a new manager in former England captain Paul Ince and one of his first decisions was to get rid of Friedel. Ince deemed the 38-year-old Friedel, after eight seasons and 288 appearances in net for Rovers, too old and brought in former England keeper Paul Robinson, while accepting a $4-million transfer offer for Friedel from Aston Villa.
While Villa is tied for third place and competing for a berth in the next European Champions League, the first half of the season has been a disaster for Blackburn, which is tied for last place and in serious danger of demotion.
After going 3-10-4 with 13 points, Ince was sacked in mid-December on the heels of a six-match losing streak. Media reports indicated one of the main reasons for his firing was his decision to sell Friedel.
Friedel, meanwhile, continued the fine play he demonstrated for Rovers after arriving at Villa Park. On November 29, he broke the Premier League record when he made his 167th straight appearance in a 0-0 draw with Fulham. The week before, he tied the record in another 0-0 draw, this time with Manchester United, making a pair of great saves to preserve the shutout.
Friedel is the second-ranked keeper in the EPL's Actim ratings system, which ranks the American the 15th-most effective player overall in the league. He has eight clean sheets and Villa (11-4-5, 38 points), the surprise of the league, is even with Manachester United (11-2-5), though United has two games in hand
Villa is also through to the fourth round of the FA Cup, following a 2-1 win Sunday at fourth-division Gillingham behind four saves by Friedel.
With Friedel having another stellar year, his American backup Brad Guzan has been relegated to reserve matches, but Villa officials insist he will be their keeper of the future.
Everton, another club with an American in goal, has shaken off a rough start to climb to sixth place at 9-6-5 with 32 points. With Tim Howard in net, Everton got off to a 2-4-3 start.
While with the U.S. for World Cup qualifying in October, Howard told SoccerTimes he was mystified at the Toffees' beginning.
"We are basically the same team as last season, but little has gone right for us so far," he said of a fifth-place finish in 2007-08. "But we will play better."
Everton has. With Howard sharp in goal, Everton has gone 7-4-2 (23 points) since. In the third round of FA Cup Saturday, The Toffees recorded a difficult 1-0 decision at Macclesfield Town of the fourth-tier League Two.
On January 25, Everton will face a major Cup challenge with a trip to Liverpool, which leads the Premier League. In a scheduling oddity, this match will come six days after Everton visits Liverpool (13-1-6, 45 points) for a league contest.
Hahnemann spurs Reading revival
When Reading was relegated from the Premiership to the League Championship after last season, Royals officials vowed their stay in the second division would be a short one. With American Marcus Hahnemann playing solidly in goal before getting injured, the Royals have played up to management's expectations. Reading (15-6-5, 51) sits in tied for second place with Birmingham City (15-6-5) and its attendant automatic promotion.
Both clubs trail the Wolverhampton Wanderers (18-4-4) by seven points.
Hahnemann injured his right calf in the 70th minute of a 1-0 victory December 10 over Blackpool, has not played since and likely will miss another few matches. His replacement, 23-year-old Adam Federici, has done well in his stead, including scoring a goal in the dying seconds of a 1-1 draw with Cardiff City two weeks ago.
According to media reports, several Premier League teams have been eying Hahnemann and he could be a transfer target.
Perkins stands out for Valerenga
American goalkeeper Troy Perkins, formerly of Major League Soccer's D.C. United, registered a solid season for Valerenga, based in Oslo, Norway. The club finished 10th among 14 teams of the first-division Tippeligaen at 8-12-6 with 30 points.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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